By: Michelle Kruger
You might be familiar with the terms cognition and metacognition. They are two related but distinct terms used to describe different aspects of the thinking process, yet we tend to in some cases, neglect to address one or both of these aspects within our teachings.
In a previous post, we spoke about Generation Z and how they learn, how we should adapt our teaching styles and why. This topic can add to that conversation as we all “cognite” and “metagognite” differently (yes, these are made-up terms, a simple play on the words that should get you thinking of the word ignite. We will strive to ignite their thinking and learning processes in a way that is advantageous to the students as well as to us, the educator and/or facilitator.
Let’s have a quick look at the difference between these two “ignition” processes:
Cognition: Cognition refers to the mental processes and activities involved in acquiring, processing, storing, and using information. It encompasses all the activities of the mind, including perception, attention, memory, language, problem-solving, reasoning, and decision-making. Cognition focuses on how we think, learn, and understand the world around us (Cherry, 2023).
Read more about Piaget’s stages of cognitive development.
Metacognition: Metacognition, on the other hand, refers to the awareness and understanding of one's own cognitive processes. It involves the ability to reflect on and monitor one's own thinking, learning, and problem-solving strategies. Metacognition involves thinking about thinking or being conscious of one's own cognitive abilities and limitations. It includes knowledge about how to plan, monitor, and regulate one's own cognitive activities to enhance learning and performance (Sword, 2023)
Metacognition was introduced by John Flavell. Read more about the background of it here.
In simpler terms, cognition is the actual process of thinking and engaging with information, while metacognition is thinking about and regulating one's own thinking process (Western Governors University, 2021). Metacognitive skills allow individuals to monitor their understanding, assess their learning progress, identify strategies to improve comprehension or problem-solving and adjust accordingly (Educare, 2020).
To illustrate the difference, let's look at an example:
If you are reading a challenging text, cognition refers to the act of reading, comprehending the words, and understanding the content.
Metacognition, on the other hand, involves being aware of your comprehension level, recognising when you're having difficulty understanding a particular concept, and employing strategies like re-reading, summarising, or asking questions to enhance your understanding.
In summary, cognition is the broad term that encompasses the entire thinking process, while metacognition refers specifically to the self-awareness and regulation of one's own cognitive processes (Educare, 2020).
How will this be applied in a cricket match from the batsman’s perspective?
Definition under foot, let’s see how metacognition is applied in a cricket match. In a cricket context, metacognition can be observed in various ways.
Imagine a cricket batsman who is facing a skilled fast bowler. The batsman's metacognitive abilities come into play as he analyses his own thinking processes, assesses the situation, and makes decisions accordingly.
Planning and strategy: The batsman considers his own strengths and weaknesses as well as the bowler's tactics. He may reflect on previous encounters with similar bowlers or review the team's game plan. This metacognitive analysis helps him develop a strategy, such as anticipating specific deliveries or identifying scoring opportunities (Gaffaney, 2017).
Self-monitoring: As the bowler prepares to deliver the ball, the batsman actively monitors his own thoughts and emotions. He might focus on maintaining concentration, regulating anxiety, or recognising distractions. By being aware of his mental state, he can adjust and refocus his attention as needed (Gaffaney, 2017).
Adjusting techniques: During the game, the batsman continuously evaluates his shot selection and execution. If he notices a flaw or realizes a particular technique is not working effectively, he engages in metacognitive reflection. He might consider alternative approaches, adjust his stance or grip, or mentally rehearse specific shots. This self-regulation allows him to adapt his techniques to optimise his performance (Rugby Coach Weekly, n.d.).
Learning from experience: After the game or even during breaks, the batsman engages in metacognitive reflection on his performance. He analyses his decision-making, shot selection, and overall effectiveness. This self-assessment helps him identify areas for improvement, such as weaknesses against certain types of deliveries or lapses in concentration. He can then develop targeted training plans to address these areas and enhance his overall performance (Gaffaney, 2017).
By utilising metacognitive skills like planning, self-monitoring, technique adjustment, and reflective analysis, the batsman can optimise his decision-making, performance, and learning within the cricket environment. Metacognition enhances his ability to think about his own thinking and regulate his cognitive processes, ultimately contributing to improved performance on the cricket field (Rugby Coach Weekly, n.d.).
And how will this be applied in a game of chess?
Cognition in playing a game like chess involves the actual thinking and decision-making processes while playing. It includes analysing the board, recognising patterns, evaluating possible moves, calculating outcomes, and making strategic decisions based on the current situation. Cognition is the active engagement with the game itself, including the mental processes used to understand and respond to the game's challenges (Kazemi et al., 2012. Pp 373).
Metacognition in playing a game like chess involves the awareness and control of one's own thinking processes during the game. It includes monitoring one's understanding of the game, reflecting on past moves and strategies, and adjusting to improve performance. Metacognition in this context means being aware of one's own thinking and decision-making processes, recognising strengths and weaknesses, and employing strategies to enhance gameplay (Kazemi et al., 2012. Pp 375).
Whether you are playing a game on the sports field, on a table with chess pieces, or learning and reflecting on new information in an online course, the process is the same. Not only will these two “ignition” processes further our learning and true understanding of what we are learning but they will also generate ideas for problem-solving and solution-thinking mindsets.
Think, SHERLOCK HOLMES.
In an online classroom setting, both cognition and metacognition can be applied to assess and evaluate students' abilities.
Now, my dear Watson, HOW? How do we incorporate cognition and metacognition in testing students' understanding and metacognitive skills?
Cognition-based assessment (Shaw et al., 2019)
- Assign quizzes or tests that require students to apply their knowledge and problem-solving skills to answer questions. These assessments can include multiple-choice questions, short-answer questions, or even more complex assignments like case studies or research projects.
- Provide open-ended questions that encourage critical thinking and higher-order cognitive skills, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
- Incorporate real-life scenarios or examples that require students to apply their knowledge in practical contexts.
- Use interactive online tools or simulations that engage students in hands-on activities and require them to make decisions or solve problems.
Metacognition-based assessment (Huang et al., 2013)
- Include self-assessment components in tests or assignments where students reflect on their understanding and performance. For example, they can rate their confidence level in their answers or explain their reasoning behind a particular response.
- Assign tasks that require students to evaluate their own learning strategies or study habits. They can describe the strategies they used to prepare for the test and assess their effectiveness.
- Provide opportunities for students to analyse their own mistakes or misconceptions. This can be done by reviewing and discussing common errors or by giving students access to their graded assessments along with feedback.
- Incorporate reflective exercises or journaling prompts where students can express their thoughts, challenges faced, and lessons learned during the learning process.
By combining both cognition-based and metacognition-based assessments, you can gain insights into students' understanding of the subject matter as well as their ability to reflect on their own thinking processes. This comprehensive approach encourages students to not only demonstrate their knowledge but also develop their metacognitive skills, leading to better self-regulated learning and improvement over time.
We can even take it further because as educators we don’t just stop at educating what is in the textbook, we educate to create lifelong learners (Handel, 2023), keeping them focused and engaged and most of all we must aim to ignite their curiosity.
Thus, incorporating metacognition and emotional intelligence (EQ) activities into classroom practice can support students in developing self-awareness, self-reflection, and empathy (Burkart, 2020).
Integrating metacognition and emotional intelligence
Mindful Reflection: Begin or end each class session with a brief mindfulness exercise, such as deep breathing or guided meditation (Brietta, 2022). This helps students develop self-awareness and the ability to focus their attention (Burkart, 2020). Brietta says: “Learning how to quiet your mind and focus on one thing at a time is a valuable part of your metacognition toolbox,” (2022). Now, I know, this is not everyone’s cup-o-tea, but this is a proven method to help students reflect and be in the moment. In an online environment, one can give them links to sound clips that help them meditate before or after engaging with new content. This will then be optional for them, but a gem for those who do it and reap the benefits thereof.
Here is an example: Pre-Study Meditation to Maximize Learning, Focus & Memory with Self Hypnosis Affirmations
Integrate reflective writing activities where students can express their thoughts, emotions, and insights about their learning experiences (Vîşcu et al, 2016). Prompts can include questions like, "What did you learn today?", "How did you feel during the lesson?", or "What strategies worked well for you?"
Now think, why would you ask them these questions?
Another one is emotional regulation: (Vîşcu et al, 2016): Teach students strategies for recognising and regulating their emotions. For example, you can introduce techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or positive self-talk to help students manage stress and anxiety.
These can all be added as an extra in the navigation panel of the Learning Management System (LMS). For example: if feeling stressed and overwhelmed, have a look at the emotion regulation tab for some helpful hints and guidance. Then within the LMS page, you created for this add some resources they can read through, self-help online videos (YouTube, Ted Talks, etc.) and motivational quotes. An app like stillme is great – the app creates a guided meditation session based on how you are feeling currently.
Now, ask yourself why? Why do I need to teach them this? Are they not adults, should they not know this, or do it for themselves?
Encourage students to identify and express their emotions in a safe and supportive classroom environment. Discussing emotions openly can enhance empathy and understanding among students. Universities usually have on-campus psychologists or similar services provided to students. These services should also be made available to your online students.
Goal Setting and Self-Assessment: Teach students how to set clear and achievable goals for their learning. Guide them in creating specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals (Handel, 2023). Encourage them to reflect on their progress regularly and adjust their goals accordingly (Burkart, 2020).
Provide opportunities for students to self-assess their own learning. This can include self-assessment checklists, rubrics, or reflection prompts that allow students to evaluate their strengths, areas for improvement, and strategies that were effective for them (Williams, 2021). Giving them an assignment/ research or practice activity to complete and then providing them with the correct answers incorporated with a great and elaborate explanation is a great way for them to get their thinking started (McGuire and Castle, 2010) – why did she include this here? Where did she get that? Why is this relevant to the answer? How do these all link? These are questions they should ask as they work through this ‘memorandum’ which will allow them to search for the answers, thus retaining the learnings so much longer because they are able to link the information’s origin or place within the bigger picture (Burkart, 2020).
Collaborative Learning and Empathy: Foster a collaborative online classroom environment where students work together on group projects or problem-solving activities (Weigand, 2017). Encourage active listening, perspective-taking, and respectful communication (in the online world this is referred to as netiquette).
Assign activities that require students to explore different perspectives and empathise with others. This can include reading literature or case studies that involve diverse characters or real-world scenarios that require understanding multiple viewpoints (Weigand, 2017).
Now think, why do I need to include this? What are the benefits?
Reflective Discussions: Incorporate regular class discussions focused on metacognition and emotional intelligence. Create a safe and inclusive space for students to share their thoughts, challenges, and strategies for learning (Burkart, 2020).
Ask open-ended questions that encourage students to reflect on their learning processes, emotions, and how their thinking has evolved. Examples could include, "How did you approach this assignment differently from previous ones?", or "How did your emotions affect your learning today?"
So, again, answer this: How would students answer questions like this? How will these types of questions benefit their learning?
These activities provide students with opportunities to develop self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and reflective thinking (Greater Good in Education, n.d). By integrating metacognition and emotional intelligence practices into the classroom, students can enhance their overall learning experience and personal growth.
Metaphors and cognition in an online learning environment
The online classroom as a digital journey
Describe the online learning experience as a journey, where students embark on an adventure of discovery and growth. This metaphor can help students understand that learning is a process that involves exploration, challenges, and milestones.
Use imagery related to travel, such as "navigating through modules," "exploring new territories of knowledge," or "reaching checkpoints of understanding." This metaphor can make the online classroom feel more relatable and exciting (Du Pont, 2020).
Below is an example of a journey through learning more about the module and areas within the module. Students shall be able to click on each “block” that will take them to read more about the specific topic.
Image created by Michelle Kruger (2023) using PowerPoint and stock images.
Online discussions as virtual cafes
Compare online discussion forums to virtual cafes, where students gather to exchange ideas and engage in intellectual conversations. This metaphor can encourage students to participate actively in online discussions and view them as social and collaborative spaces.
Encourage students to "join the conversation," "share a cup of knowledge," or "listen to different perspectives" just as they would in a lively café. This metaphor creates a sense of community and connection in the online learning environment (Ni Made Wahyu Suganti Cahyani, 2021).
Image created by Michelle Kruger (2023) using PowerPoint and stock images.
Online assessments as digital puzzles
Frame online assessments as puzzles that students need to solve. Emphasise that assessments are opportunities for students to piece together their knowledge, apply critical thinking, and demonstrate their understanding (Genc et al. 2015).
Refer to assessment tasks as "pieces of the puzzle," and challenge students to "solve the puzzle by connecting the concepts" or "uncover the hidden picture of learning." This metaphor can make assessments more engaging and encourage students to approach them with a problem-solving mindset (Genc et al. 2015).
You can even take it a step further and create a game of it. For example, in a nursing course, you can integrate a "Patient Care Challenge: Escape from the Medical Maze". Students engage in an immersive and interactive learning experience that assesses the following assessment criteria:
- Clinical assessment skills
- Medication management knowledge
- Critical thinking abilities
- Communication and documentation proficiency
- Patient education competencies
- Ethical decision-making capabilities.
The digital puzzle provides a practical and engaging platform for students to apply their theoretical knowledge to realistic nursing scenarios. The challenges within the puzzle assess different nursing skills and knowledge. Let's see how this will “look” (OpenAI, 2023):
Testing skill 1: Clinical Assessment: The first challenge involves entering a patient's room with multiple monitoring devices and medical charts. Students need to interpret the patient's vital signs, review the medical history, and identify any abnormalities or potential risks. They must then prioritize and select appropriate interventions based on their assessment findings.
Testing skill 2: Medication Management: In the next challenge, students encounter a medication room filled with different drugs, labels, and prescription orders. They must carefully review the information, verify correct dosages and administration routes, and identify any potential medication errors. This challenge assesses their knowledge of pharmacology and medication safety practices.
Testing skill 3: Critical Thinking: Students are presented with a complex patient case study that requires critical thinking and decision-making skills. They must analyze the patient's symptoms, laboratory results, and diagnostic reports to make accurate assessments, identify potential complications, and develop an effective care plan. This challenge encourages students to think critically and apply their theoretical knowledge to real-life situations.
Testing skill 4: Communication and Documentation: In a simulated nurse station, students encounter a series of tasks that assess their communication and documentation skills. They must accurately document patient information, communicate with healthcare team members effectively, and prioritize tasks based on patient needs. This challenge emphasizes the importance of clear and concise communication in nursing practice.
Testing skill 5: Patient Education: Students enter a simulated patient education room, where they must interact with a virtual patient and provide clear and understandable instructions on medication administration, self-care techniques, or lifestyle modifications. This challenge evaluates their ability to communicate health information effectively and promote patient understanding and engagement.
Testing skill 6: Ethical Dilemma: Towards the end of the puzzle, students face a scenario with an ethical dilemma related to patient care. They must analyse the situation, consider different perspectives, and make an informed decision that upholds ethical principles and protects patient well-being. This challenge stimulates ethical reasoning and encourages students to apply ethical frameworks to nursing practice.
Online resources as a digital toolbox
Portray the online resources available to students as a toolbox filled with tools and materials to support their learning. This metaphor can highlight the wide range of resources students can access and empower them to use these tools effectively (Learning Forward, 2013).
Encourage students to "open their toolbox," "select the right tool for the task," or "build their knowledge with the resources at hand." This metaphor emphasises the active role students play in utilising online resources to enhance their cognition (Learning Forward, 2013).
Online collaboration as a digital playground
Present online collaborative activities as a digital playground where students can work together, explore ideas, and have fun while learning. This metaphor fosters a sense of enjoyment and engagement in collaborative online activities.
Use phrases like "play together to solve problems", "swing ideas back and forth", or "build sandcastles of creativity" to encourage students to actively participate and contribute to group projects or discussions (Gwo-Dong et al., 2012). Keep your audience in mind.
These metaphors can make the online learning experience more relatable, engaging, and memorable for students. By creating connections between abstract concepts and familiar experiences, metaphors can enhance students' understanding, motivation, and cognitive engagement in the online classroom (Leon, 2022).
If we as educators fail to include opportunities for both of these ‘ignitions’, it will most likely lead to lower grades and/or hinder the learning process.
Without metacognitive awareness, a student may spend excessive time reviewing familiar material and neglect areas of weakness. As a result, they may not adequately address the topics that require more attention while studying and perform poorly on those specific areas in the exam (Anthonysamy et al., 2019).
Students who do not engage in metacognitive strategies while reading may struggle with understanding complex texts. They may fail to monitor their comprehension, identify difficult sections, and employ strategies like re-reading or summarizing to enhance understanding. Consequently, they may miss important information and struggle to answer questions correctly (Hüseyin et al., 2021).
When faced with challenging problems, students who lack metacognitive skills may rush into solving them without planning or reflecting on alternative approaches. This can result in errors, inefficiency, or overlooking crucial steps, leading to incorrect solutions and lower grades (Anthonysamy et al., 2019).
Students who do not practice metacognitive time management may struggle to allocate sufficient time for different tasks or assignments. This can lead to cramming, rushing through work, or missing deadlines, ultimately affecting the quality of their work and resulting in lower grades (Anthonysamy et al., 2019).
Without metacognitive awareness, students may rely on ineffective or passive study strategies, such as re-reading without actively engaging with the material or highlighting without meaningful annotation. These strategies may not effectively reinforce learning, resulting in reduced retention and lower performance on assessments (Hüseyin et al., 2021).
When students do not engage in metacognitive reflection on feedback received from educators or peers, they miss opportunities for improvement. Without critically analysing their strengths and areas for growth identified in the feedback, they may continue making the same mistakes or fail to implement suggested strategies, which can impact their grades negatively (Anthonysamy et al., 2019).
These examples highlight the importance of metacognition in learning. By applying metacognitive strategies such as self-assessment, planning, monitoring, reflection, and adapting study techniques, students can enhance their learning process, identify areas for improvement, and ultimately achieve better grades (Hüseyin et al., 2021).
An excellent study to read should you have time is Sherlock Holmes – an Expert’s view of expertise by Didierjean, André & Gobet, Fernand. (2008). Sherlock Holmes—An expert's view of expertise. British journal of psychology (London, England: 1953). 99. 109-25. 10.1348/000712607X224469.
Cognition is a natural process, Jean Piaget proved in his various studies how we as humans learn from the sensorimotor stage where we learn through movements and sensations up to where we start to think abstract thoughts, consider hypothetical problems and use deductive reasoning. This is a normal process for everyone as they grow (Cherry, 2022).
Metacognition, on the other hand, is something that needs to be taught and discussed with students. Useful ideas are using your syllabus as a roadmap, prompting students to think about their prior learnings and how this links to new learnings, and asking them to “think out loud” - verbalising thoughts can help make more sense of the material and internalise it more deeply (The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, n.d.). There are various other strategies students can be taught with the aim of improving students' metacognitive skills.
We were all once students (students of life at the very least) and one day someone said something that ignited a thought, a question, a wonder. In our search for answers, we had to turn into an ‘investigative journalist’ to come to the root cause of the answers, but without that initial ignition, well.
Questions to reflect on
- Does the provided information above make sense?
- What strategies can you implement to ignite your students' thinking (about thinking) that will help them solve real-world problems in their studies?
- How does this information conflict with your prior understanding?
- How does this information relate to what you already know about cognition and metacognition?
- What “ignition” questions will I ask my students next time I teach?
- What is confusing about this topic of cognition and metacognition?
- What are the relationships between these two concepts?
- What conclusions can you make?
In conclusion, before you “metacognite” about this article, how do you intentionally incorporate metacognition into your teaching practices to help students become more aware of their learning processes and strategies?
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